By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
EDMONDS — After losing to Lynnwood for a third time this season, the road the Edmonds-Woodway girls basketball team had to take to get to the state regional round tested everything the Warriors had learned about themselves all season.
It’s safe to say they passed.
After their postseason loss to the Royals, the Warriors won three consecutive loser-out games, including a thrilling one-point victory over Eastlake in last Saturday’s Wesco/Kingco crossover game for the final berth in regionals from Districts 1 and 2.
The victory earned the Warriors a meeting with No. 6 ranked Mount Rainier tonight at Kent-Meridian High School. The winner advances to the state quarterfinals at the Tacoma Dome on Thursday.
Entering the district tournament, the Warriors knew a first-round victory over Monroe would get them one step closer to regionals. They also knew it would likely set up yet another meeting with No. 1 ranked Lynnwood.
“It was tough for them, especially coming into it, knowing that if that they win that first game that they were going to have to play Lynnwood,” Warriors head coach Rebekah Wells said. “That’s hard to mentally focus on that. So I just kept prepping them and said, ‘Let’s take it one game at a time.’”
The one-game approach, as cliche as it sounds, helped the Warriors immensely as the district tournament wore on.
The Warriors and Royals both won their first-round games to set up a semifinal matchup with each other as the girls predicted might happen.
And for a third time the Royals got the best of the Warriors. However, for the first time, Edmonds-Woodway proved it could compete against the state’s best team.
In the first meeting between the two teams, the Warriors found themselves down 19-0 before they even put up a shot, ultimately losing 60-15. In the second game, the Warriors put up nearly 35 more points, but still lost by 28. In districts, the Warriors actually held a lead at the end of the first quarter before Lynnwood turned it on in the second and third to secure a 43-26 win.
“They really helped us get to this level,” Edmonds-Woodway point guard Moni Jackson said of Lynnwood. “Honestly, I think Lynnwood is a great team and they are great individuals and they really helped us to get to where we are now.”
Perhaps the biggest gift the Royals gave the Warriors was confidence.
“To see that they can play those types of teams and then be more consistent and then come out and be leading them in the end of the first quarter, it’s a big confidence booster,” Wells said. “They understand they are very talented individually and when they come together and they all have the same goal and mentality, that works well for this team.”
That aawareness of what it takes to succeed showed in the Warriors’ next three games. Using Wells’ one-game at a time approach, Edmonds-Woodway quietly moved on along in the consolation side of the bracket.
The Warriors first opponent after losing to Lynnwood was Snohomish. Good old-fashioned revenge helped fuel the Warriors’ fire in this contest.
“For Snohomish, we had lost to them before and we didn’t play that well as a team,” Wells said, adding her players “had a lot to prove.”
The Warriors won 53-40.
The Warriors next opponent was Monroe, a team they already had beaten twice this season. The Warriors struggled, but still seized the opportunity, beating the Bearcats 57-52 in overtime. That set up a meeting with Eastlake.
The Warriors never thought about what opponent might come after Eastlake, but they did think about how rewarding victory would be. Wells said she thinks that helped motivate her team.
“Versus Eastlake, it was more that they saw that their goals were in reaching distance and they’re like, ‘you know what, let’s just go out there and play,’” Wells said. “
Freshman Missy Peterson sent the Warriors to regionals with her go-ahead layin with seven seconds to play in the game.
“I just tried to keep them grounded at one game at a time and it seemed to work well,” Wells said. “I don’t think it was a completely different approach. It was just more aggressive and goal-oriented towards the end. It really had to be one game at a time because they were loser-out.”
The fact that a freshman, one that deferred to her teammates earlier in the season, hit the shot that sent the Warriors to regionals is indicative of how much the team has grown.
“We really have to be positive with each other and that’s what we’ve been doing and it’s really paying off a lot as you can tell in these past few games,” Eck said.
As a first-year head coach, Wells has tried to make her team more well-rounded on offense, and as the season progressed, she began to see her players achieve that more and more.
“At the beginning of the season, we would keep taking a lot of shots on the outside if we weren’t hitting them,” Wells said. “Now they are able to see and get their other teammates open. They are able to be more consistent and are able to see if they aren’t hitting the outside shot, they can still be a threat.”
For all the great things the Warriors have done lately, their reward is the Rams and Brittany McPhee, the state’s defending two-time Gatorade Player of the Year. McPhee heads to Stanford University when she graduates later this year, but first she has her sights set on garnering her first-ever state championship.
“It’s not terrifying, but it’s stressful because we know Mount Rainier is really good,” Jackson said. “But we also know we’re really good. We beat Eastlake with 20 seconds left in the game and people underestimated us. We’re here and we’re here to win and I don’t think we’re going to give up.”
Wells and her players know not many people think they have a chance against the Rams, but they hope to tap the confidence they gained from their more recent meetings with Lynnwood to help them earn a victory and move on to Tacoma.
“We’re not going to change how we play,” Wells said. “We’re just going to play our game and be a great defensive team and put all our efforts out there and hopefully it works out well. We just have to go out there and be confident. It’s just like going up against a Lynnwood team for us. We’ve played really good teams, so we know we can play with them.”
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at email@example.com.
When: Today, 6 p.m.
Where: Kent-Meridian H.S.
Records: Edmonds-Woodway 17-8; Mount Rainier 21-3
AP rank: Edmonds-Woodway NR; Mount Rainier 6th
Scoreczar rank: Edmonds-Woodway 18th; Mount Rainier 4th
Key wins: Edmonds-Woodway—Issaquah, Jackson, Eastlake; Mount Rainier—Eastlake, Kentridge (twice), Tahoma (twice), Kentwood (twice), Beamer (twice), Skyview.
How they got to regionals: Edmonds-Woodway beat Eastlake in the District 1/2 crossover game to earn the District 1/2 No. 5 seed. Mount Rainier beat Todd Beamer in the District 3/4 championship game to earn the District 3/4 No. 1 seed.
Players to watch: Edmonds-Woodway—Sidney Eck, P; Moni Jackson, G; Missy Peterson, G/F; Natalie Kasper; Mount Rainier—Brittany McPhee, F; Jordan McPhee, G; Kaiti Freeberg, G; Emily Fiso, F.
Breakdown: Heading into the season, the Rams were arguably the odds-on favorite to win the 4A crown. But after stumbling against Lynnwood and Todd Beamer in the first month, Mount Rainier has won 15 of 16 to end the season, including a pair of lopsided wins over Beamer and another big win over third-ranked Skyview in the district tournament. It’s fair to say the Rams are playing their best basketball at the best time. The same could be said for Edmonds-Woodway, which has won seven of its past eight games. The Warriors, however, will need to find out a way to contain Stanford-bound forward Brittany McPhee, who is averaging 27.0 points per game and is a tenacious rebounder. The Warriors will ask Eck to be a presence inside the paint on both ends of the court, but the post must stay out of foul trouble to give E-W a chance. Also Kasper and Jackson must knock down big shots and E-W needs contributions from role players like Peterson, Maddy Nealy and Claire Fyfe.
Webcast: Sound Live Sports
Webcast: Eli Sports
Prediction: Mount Rainier, 63-55